38 accidents like AirAsia,1000 million USD spent on a training which will fade away in no time: mindFly


The Loss of Control-In-flight Accident report by IATA analyzes the 38 LOC-I accidents that occurred during the reported period 2011-14 and caused 1,242 fatalities and contributing factors. LOC-I accidents like the 2014 Air Asia often have catastrophic results with very few, if any, survivors. Reducing the number of LOC-I accidents is an ICAO priority, and ICAO has developed harmonized training requirements for flight crews that address and mitigate LOC-I events.

The industry has spent a whooping 1,000 million USD on training pilots and trainers. Does it ensure that LOC-I accident will be eliminated like they did with the introduction of the Ground Proximity Warning System?

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Upset recovery training for prevention of LOC-I is collated into an integrated approach which identifies the training resources — academic, on aeroplane, and Flight simulator-based — and the associated elements of training required to provide pilots with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) to reduce the probability of an upset encounter and to maximize their ability to recover from such an event.

Stall protection

The training aims at accurate and early recognition of all available aural, visual and tactile alerts to both an approaching stall and, with due consideration to maintaining adequate safety margins, an aerodynamic stall. Particular attention is given to aeroplane stall characteristics in the absence of a stall warning indication.

Background information on stall

The lift of an airfoil depends on its aerodynamic coefficient (Cl) and the square of the speed of the airflow. The aerodynamic coefficient increases with the angle of attack (noted as alpha) up to a maximum value, after which it decreases when the angle of attack continues to increase. This tipping point, where the aerodynamic coefficient is at maximum is the marker, from an aerodynamic point of view, for the stall. The angle of attack at which the Cz is at a maximum is thus the stall angle of attack (alphamax).

The aerodynamic characteristics of an aerofoil, thus the evolution of the Cl = f (alpha) curve, are different between the lower layers (low Mach, subsonic airflow, incompressible air) and the high altitudes (higher Mach, airflow close to trans-sonic, influence of the compressibility of the air).

Stall jpeg
Lift graph

Recovery from an impending stall or after a stall requires the pilot to unload the wing or reduce the angle of attack. If for e.g. the aircraft nose drops after a stall, the pilot would instinctively pull the control column back to get the nose back up because this is what they do day in and out. In this scenario, the pilot will push the stick to fly the nose down and reduce the angle of attack.

How long does it take to form a new habit?

Stall recovery is a counterintuitive maneuver. Skill is learnt through repetition till it forms a habit and becomes automatic. Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s when he began noticing a strange pattern among his patients. When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation — like a nose job, for example — he found that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation. These experiences prompted Maltz to think about his own adjustment period to changes and new behaviors, and he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to form a new habit. Maltz wrote about these experiences and said, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit. On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

The current duration of training is grossly inadequate for the pilot behaviour to becoming automatic for an approach to stall/stall recovery.

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve


Ebbinghaus forgetting curve describes the decrease in ability of the brain to retain memory over time. The issue was hypothesized by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, which is why it’s called Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. The theory is that humans start losing the memory of learned knowledge over time, in a matter of days or weeks, unless the learned knowledge is consciously reviewed time and again. A related concept to the forgetting curve is strength of memory, which states that the time period up to which a person can recall any memory is based on the strength of the particular memory.

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The forgetting curve

Ebbinghaus found the forgetting curve to be exponential in nature. Memory retention is 100% at the time of learning any particular piece of information. However, it drops rapidly to 40% within the first dew days. After which, the declination of memory retention slows down again.

In simple words, forgetting curve is exponential because memory loss is rapid and huge within the first few days of learning. But, the rate of memory loss decreases and the rate of much forgetting are much slower from then on.

Ebbinghaus also discovered another phenomenon called overlearning during his study on forgetting curve. The basic idea is that if you practiced something more than what is usually required to memorize it, the effect of overlearning takes place. This means that the information is now stored much more strongly and thus the effects of forgetting curve for overlearned information is shallower.


If a routine learning fades from our memory  in a few days, how do we expect a counterintuitive skill to be remembered and applied as an automatic behaviour during a highly stressful situation.
Despite the millions of dollars spent on training pilots for UPRT, will the pilot manage to maneuver the aircraft to safety when faced with a highly stressful situation?
My understanding of the science and psychology tells me that the current level of training on this aspect is grossly inadequate. The training may have generated an awareness amongst the pilots that the aircraft behaves differently at various altitudes but the response  during panic is always amplified due to physiological changes.
Mindfulness, meditation and control over the breath is the key to keep the brain functioning normally. This will generate the desired response.
Proponents of evidence based training (EBT) should take note of it. Engine failures have stopped causing fatalities that can be compared to LOC-I. Should LOC-I training replace the premium exercise of engine failure at takeoff? If EBT is data based then, I guess it should.
The bottom line is ” Train, Train , Train and Train insane”.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am https://www.linkedin.com/in/traintofly/ Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

8 Responses

  1. Ivan

    That is precisely the point proponents of EBT are seeking to make.
    In fact it would make sense to be evidence driven in any sphere of activity…where there is adequate data available and which has been scientifically co related.
    At the present level of Simulator technology …there are obvious limits to simulation of “outside envelope “ flight characteristics …as also the inability to replicate sustainable G(gravitational)forces .
    Hence the scope/discussion …at some point… to use light aircraft with aerobatic capability.
    My personal take is …to start off the early phases of flight training on Gliders ( many of which are designed to be very Safely recoverable from fully developed stalls and spins)
    Having personally being fortunate enough to have started that way….I feel that kind of early introduction to the basics of aerodynamic behaviour… is a solid learning foundation to build further aircraft type specific training on.

    1. The main focus needs to be on the initial flying where foundation is laid. EASA has made a safety case for the review of the examination system. They intend to change it from the multiple choice to practicals and demonstration style at the ATO level. This is because data suggests that 80% of pilots undergoing type rating do not have conceptual understandingly the subject.
      Having said that I believe that every regulator needs to engage with the stake holders, SME’s and experts in the field of learning and development to get the holistic view. Random ideas and off the shelve products cannot fulfill the requirement. A road map needs to be laid out and an execution plan with time lines and objectives for each stage. It has to be quantified and measurable.
      Institutions need to be built which can attract the best of talent. Visiting experts and all stake holders along with the general public should engage in moderated discussions and debates to come to a common ground to takeoff from.
      Flying schools need to be graded for standards and equality control.
      A single piece can not improve the system, every part has to move along with.

    2. Take the example if AUPRT. Had the theory of flight and aerodynamics been conceptually strong as a subject, the need to spend 1000 mill USD would not have arisen. We take short cuts to get a CPL and then the Airline has to spend money, time and effort to retrain the pilots.
      The basic ATPL subjects are never refreshed after the license is issued but the specific technical which is not so important is reviewed every 6 month.
      Proponents of EBT must consider the fact that basic knowledge level is poor and that must be refreshed frequently. It UPRT now, in the future it could some other foundation level aspect.
      What will save the day is the foundation knowledge, the current technical is available in the manuals.

  2. Ivan

    Yes ICAO and indeed the industry at large has been aware for the need to reform the rote learning training regime for quite some time now.
    While a road map 🗺 and a grand plan are definitely commendable objectives…we must be careful not to let that “plan” strangle evolution of ideas and the flexibility to adapt and adopt.
    So to that extent allowing evidence based safety oversight could a viable way forward.
    Established Airlines could nominate “intuitively “ gifted professionals with the support of SMEs formulate a training roadmap tailored to their kind of operations .
    These separate training programs (within a broad based regulatory framework) could then be examined and accepted (dependent on the operators established track record).
    This would need to be coupled with a close and professionally/scientifically sound monitoring /surveillance program by the regulator.

    1. The future growth is in the Asian/SE Asian region. I don’t see any new initiative taken up. ICAO NGAP too does not address the need to reform and do away with rote learning. Which ICAO document are you referring to? ICAO Pans Trg has been advocating use of Instruction Design for formulating content. I haven’t seen anyone including the regulator encouraging the use of it. ID is what is the core of any content design including the infamous EBT.
      This is why a roadmap is needed so that everyone is on the same page.

    2. If you sift through the files, I had written a proposal to the regulator in 2008 regarding introducing EBT. There were no takers then, now it’s been forced upon them by the industry and some lobbyists.

  3. Ivan Jalaluddin

    It is quite likely,that the people in the Regulator you shared your EBT presentation with in 2008…were unable to visualize its potential as a great training tool.
    However,I think that should not lead us to view any fresh EBT initiatives by the OEM or others with undue suspicion.
    I completely concur with the assessment regarding the observable degradation in “conceptual” knowledge.
    Over the years,I have been closely studying aircraft accident reports…which you would agree,is a significant primary data source for a lot of case studies on human factors.
    And like many training captains…I have been incorporating the distillate of the insights thus gained,in devising realistic training scenarios and discussions during Simulator sessions and Ground refreshers.
    So in actual practice there already exist many practitioners of a rudimentary form of CBT/EBT…within the straight jacket of the existing training/checking regime.
    The good news,in my assessment is,that people intuitively gravitate towards conceptual understanding/learning…once the focus on “artificial” testing methods is broadened to a wider “realistic” assessment methodology .

  4. Ivan

    I had posted a reply last week,but looks like it didn’t get posted,so here it is again.
    It is likely that the people in the regulator you gave your EBT proposal to in 2008,could not visualise its potential as an effective training tool.
    However that history, should not lead us to suspect the motives of some sections of the industry who are seeking to implement it now!
    ICAOs initiatives regarding EBT and UPRT are articulated in their relevant docs,and while they are still in the form of “works in progress”,the broad ideas and intended objectives are not beyond the grasp of most experienced Training Captains with the large operators and the regulators.Some of us have a mental database of significant accidents over the last 30 odd years,and do intuitively understand the practical import of the evolving SARPS in these areas.
    It has been my observation that,Globally most training improvement initiatives are industry driven.
    As long as there are professionally experienced and forward looking officials in the regulator,it is possible to document and establish a safe and acceptable road map for the approval process.
    In my opinion,it would make sense to let the operators design and propose specific training/checking modules customised to their requirements and level of expertise.
    As more experience is gained,more detailed generic regulatory guidelines can be drawn up,to assist the rest of the industry to transit to the SARPS as envisaged/prescribed by ICAO.

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